Bangladeshi High Court Upholds Death Penalty for Two Men Who Slaughtered Atheist Blogger in 2013

In early 2013, there was a clash in Bangladesh over the writing of atheist bloggers that left at least two people dead, including blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider (a.k.a. Thaba Baba).

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A year later, seven students and a cleric were actually charged with the crime. That was a bit surprising given that those who react to perceived blasphemy with violence seem to be given medals of honor these days in nations like Bangladesh.

Perhaps even more surprising is that all eight were indicted by a Bangladeshi court in 2015:

The indictments mean a trial will begin for Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani, head of the Ansarullah Bangla Team, and the seven students at a private university who have confessed involvement in the killing.

The investigation report says Rahmani incited the students to kill Haider in sermons at two mosques in which he said all atheist bloggers should be killed to protect Islam.

All eight faced the death penalty if convicted. But as we later learned, only two of them would be receiving the death penalty while the rest would be sent to prison for varying lengths of time.

The court said that one of the students sentenced to death, Faisal bin Nayeem, attacked Haider with a meat cleaver in front of the victim’s house.

The other was tried and sentenced in absentia.

The blogger’s father, Mohammad Nazim Uddin, said he was unhappy that only two men were given the death sentence.

“I’m not happy with the verdict. I reject this verdict. Five of them confessed their involvement in the killing. But only two were given death sentence. How is it possible?”, he said.

The lawyer for all of them said that he would appeal the decision… but that time is over now. Bangladesh’s High Court ruled yesterday that the two men who had been sentenced to death would indeed be killed soon.

The two convicts, Redwanul Azad Rana and Faisal Bin Nayem, are members of the Islamist group Ansar al Islam, linked to al-Qaeda. In 2015, Dhaka police announced a reward of 500,000 taka ($6,410) for Rana, believed to be the most senior leader of the group. He has gone into hiding.

Rana is also accused of hacking to death another blogger, Bangladesh-born U.S. citizen Avijit Roy, in the same year.

Part of me is glad to see some semblance of justice offered in response to these hate crimes. People involved in such brutal slaughters deserve to be punished, not set free after a few years.

Another part of me says killing them isn’t the best answer — not just because the death penalty is hardly a deterrent against people who don’t care about dying for their cause, but because killing these terrorists may spur others to avenge their deaths. They all need to be locked away forever, humiliated in a way that prevents any sort of “martyrdom.”

It’s also stunning that Rahmani, the preacher who was the head of this whole operation (though he didn’t commit the actual crime), was only given five years in jail. What’s going to happen when he’s let out? Does anyone really think he’ll change his mind in prison?

Killing two terrorists won’t stop the larger problem of a culture that sees critics of Islam as the enemy rather than those who attack those critics in retaliation. It’s a temporary bandage that won’t stop these crimes from happening again in the future.

(Large portions of this article were published earlier)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.